Mauricio Kagel -  Transición II; Phonophonie

Mauricio Kagel


  mode 127


Mode Records - A Record Label Devoted to New Music Transición II; Phonophonie

Transición II (1958-59)   (21:31)
Aldo Orvieto, piano, Dimitri Fiorin, percussion, Alvise Vidolin, tapes and live electronics

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Phonophonie (1963-64)   (22:54)
Four melodramas for two voices and other sound sources
Nicholas Isherwood, bass, Stefano Bassanese, tapes and sound direction, Tim Greacen, offstage voice with prerecorded contributions by:
Dimitri Fiorin, percussion, Piera Acone, Elena Barbalich, voices
Daniele Del Giudice, Xavier Tabet, Nicholas Isherwood, additional voices

Download the MP3 sample (2MB)

Directed, recorded and mixed by Stefano Bassanese
First Recording
Composer supervised recordings

This disc collects two early, forward looking works by Argentine born Mauricio Kagel, now living in Germany. Both works are constructed in such a way so that no two performances can ever be alike.

TRANSICION II was an early exploration of what "live electronics" are now being used to achieve. The score is in individual pages which can be placed in any order by the performers.

Transición II works on three levels. LIVE: The pianist performs on the keyboard while a percussionist performs inside the piano. TAPE #1: Before performing the piece, they prerecord some sections which are to be played back during the performance. TAPE #2: the live performance is also recorded and that soundtrack can be played back. Repetition of any of the musical material is not allowed - instead, as the players continue to perform in the present, the tapes can recall music already played. In addition, the tapes can be manipulated to change timbre and frequencies in order to make recognition of the original sounds impossible.

For this recording, the modern technology of live electronics is used in place of the analogue tape loops. This allows the electronic technician to become an actual third performer - creator of the "tapes" and in charge of the sound direction.

"PHONOPHONIE is intended to be the portrait of an anonymous 19th century singing actor, captured at the moment of his vocal decline...", to quote Kagel. Every element is rigorously organized in the score of Phonophonie, especially elements which are not strictly musical (acting, gestures, lighting, etc.).

It is actually a piece of musical theater-the singer, preferably a dark male voice, should be alone on stage. He plays an unconventional traditional instrument (the Waldteufel, string with rosin connected to a simple resonator) which produces a monotone gurgling sound similar to the noise produced when one expires. A second voice must be placed off-stage (the part is performed by another singer or a reciter). Another tape contains a mix of "other sound sources", extraneous sounds and voices.

Conceived as a melodrama, the singer reacts with the other sounds as well as having to rapidly switch between four roles: the singer, the mimic, the ventriloquist and, in addition, the deaf-mute. The dramatic function of this dissociation is redefined over the course of a lengthy series of schizophrenic dialogues and "trialogues" between the persona of the singer and his disconnected parts.
  • Phonophonie receives its first recording.
  • Composer supervised and authorized performances.


Mauricio Kagel
Transicion II/Phonophonie
Mode 127

With his typically tongue-in-cheek sense of humour, Mauricio Kagel describes these two pieces, dating respectively from 1959 and 1964, as belonging to an "almost prehistoric" period of compositional activity. The instrumental parts of "Transicion II", for piano, percussion (playing just the inside of the piano) and electronics are notated precisely but Kagel's score allows for some freedom in the ordering of material. In addition, the material is manipulated electronically in real time, and the plot is further thickened by the inclusion of pre-recorded material. The sound world is defiantly and uncompromisingly post-war serial, but the work has lost none of its excitement, and is performed magnificently by Aldo Orvieto, Dimitri Fiorin and Alvise Vidolin. "Phonophonie", subtitled "four melodramas for two voices and other sound sources", which Kagel describes as "the portrait of an anonymous 19th century singing actor captured at the moment of his vocal decline" is a tour de force for baritone Nicholas Isherwood, who negotiates the score's furious complexity with consummate ease. The "other sound sources" include a Waldteufel (a rosined string connected to a resonator) and two pre-recorded tapes, and, as is often the case with Kagel, there's a strong visual and theatrical element to the work that a mere sound recording cannot communicate, but Isherwood's virtuoso performance more than makes up for the fact.
--- Dan Warburton, All Music Guide, January 2004

Mauricio Kagel
Transicion II/Phonophonie
Mode 127

...My third opera has already happened. If you missed Nicholas Isherwood's vocal concert last May, I highly recommend his new recording of Mauricio Kagel's Phonophonie (Mode), the piece that concluded that unforgettable tour de force performance. While female singers seeking innovative ancestors can investigate Joan La Barbara (especially the recent reissue of her seminal Voice Is the Original Instrument on Lovely), Meredith Monk, Cathy Berberian, Diamanda Galas, and a host of others, few male singers tackle avant vocal music. Isherwood's recording of Phonophonie, a staged, schizophrenic, hyperverbal deconstruction of singing, does what all singers must do: dazzle the ear.
--- Christopher Delaurenti, The Score (at,
      January 15, 2004

Related Resources:

Also by NICHOLAS ISHERWOOD on Mode Records:
"In the Sky I am Walking":  works of Karlheinz Stockhausen, Pascal
      Dusapin and songs of the Native Americans. (mode 68)
Alain BANCQUART: Le Livre du Labyrinthe (mode 120/121, 2-CDs)
Nicola CISTERNINO: Xöömij (1997) for bass voice & UPIC
    (mode 98/99, 2-CDs)
Luigi NONO: A floresta é jovem e cheja de vida (mode 87)
Gerard Pape: Ascension to Purgatory (mode 167)

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